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Interview with Mable Latimer

Interviewee: 
Latimer, Mable
Interviewer: 
Reed, Lynn
Date of Interview: 
2005-04-18
Identifier: 
BBLA0021
Subjects: 
Latimer, Mable, 1934-; West Charlotte High School (Charlotte, N.C.); Fairview Elementary School (Charlotte, N.C.); Biddleville Elementary School (Charlotte, N.C.); Topeka (Kan.). Board of Education; African American students; African American teachers; African American neighborhoods; Community and school; Parent-teacher relationships; Public schools; Race relations; School environment; Segregation in education; Social history; Volunteer workers in education; North Carolina--Charlotte; Interviews (Sound recordings); Oral histories
Abstract: 
Mable Latimer reflects on her experience at West Charlotte High School both as a former student during segregation as well as in her current capacity as a volunteer at the school. She describes the changes in the culture of West Charlotte High School, from when she graduated in 1952 to the time of the interview in 2005. Ms. Latimer sees this change as a shift from a culture in which the teachers were highly experienced and the parents deeply involved in the education of their students, to a culture in which the teachers are inexperienced, and the parents are less involved. She discusses various problems within the Charlotte Mecklenburg school system as a whole, and proposes several possible solutions, includinge hiring qualified educators with experience in mentoring low income/high risk students, and encouraging abstinence education. Miss Latimer also reflects on the impact of the 1954 Brown versus Board of Education Supreme Court decision on Charlotte’s education system. Miss Latimer closes the interview with some words of advice and encouragement to low income and high risk students.
Coverage: 
North Carolina--Charlotte; 1934-2005
Interview Setting: 
Unknown
Collection: 
Before Brown Collection
Collection Description: 
These interviews were conducted in conjunction with the Levine Museum of the New South’s award winning exhibit, "Courage: The Carolina Story That Changed America,” which was originally mounted in 2004. The interviews focus on the educational experiences of members of the African American community of Charlotte during the era of segregation.
Interview Audio: 
Transcript:
[NOTE TO TAGGER: NAME SPELLINGS ARE UNCERTAIN] LR: Today is Monday April 18th 2005 and I'm here with Mable Latimer with the Before Brown Project that is part of the Oral History interviews at UNC Charlotte. I am interviewing Ms. Latimer. If we could just start with some biographical-well first of all good morning Ms. Latimer.
ML: Good morning, good morning.
LR: If we could just start a little bit with some biographical information. Basically if you can tell me when and where you were born and share some information about your family as far as siblings different things like that just some of the biographical information to get started with.
ML: Ok. I was born here in Charlotte 70 years June 15th 1934 to be exact. My parents were Brevard and Grace Haynes my father is deceased and my mom is still living at 95 years old. She lives with me. I have one sister Alice Haynes Kibler who also graduated from West Charlotte in 1954. I was married to Wilbur Otto Latimer Senior and we had three children Otto Latimer Jr., Rena Latimer and Adrianne Latimer. I have 2 granddaughters had to think for a moment.
LR: [Laughter]
ML: And I have 4 great-grandchildren ranging from 16 to 5.
LR: Ok.
ML: In which 2 of them are here at West Charlotte in 9th and 10th grade.
LR: That's wonderful. When you-if you could just give me a little history as far as coming up through the Charlotte school system and if you can give me dates as far as your elementary school, middle school and coming into high school.
ML: OK I attended kindergarten starting at 5 years old and that was at Fairview Elementary School and I was there from kindergarten to 5th grade at the very-well I'll say right before Christmas in 5th grade my parents relocated to a section called Biddleville. And I had to transfer schools and I went to Biddleville Elementary School which is located right-was located on Beatties Ford Road it no longer exists now of course. And I was there until 9th grade in 1948 I came to West Charlotte in 9th grade and I was here at West Charlotte until my senior year in 1952.
LR: OK thinking back to say high school West Charlotte can you-or even back to elementary school can you remember as far as how the schools looked physically outside and inside?
ML: Well I guess if I had to think about it I thought they looked great because I didn't have anything to compare it with that's all I knew. I remember all of them were partially brick schools and it was typical classrooms with the desk and the teacher's desk at the front. And Biddleville was I think just a little more updated than Fairview because it wasn't quite as old as Fairview School was and at West Charlotte which is now Northwest School of the Arts was a totally brick school and well I thought it was fantastic until I was probably in maybe 10th grade when I realized that well maybe we aren't quite as fortunate as some of the other schools that were all white schools because West Charlotte was all black in fact all of the 3 schools that I attended was all black. And I realized that there were some carvings on a few of the desks and realizing that they came from Central High School which was an all white school and then of course there was Harding and we happened to have the same colors. The maroon and gold and I realized that we were getting all of the hand-me-downs from Harding the basketball teams uniforms, the band uniforms, football uniforms and there was really not a problem with the color because they were the same but I guess I was in 10th grade when I realized that and the same thing with books. We received books from Central High School because they would put their names in them and then they would have "Central High School" in them. But as far as the teachers were concerned they were so into us making sure that we were receiving the type of education that we needed to receive just with those materialistic things were the only time that I realized that well we're getting hand-me-downs. And I wondered probably by the time I became a junior why were we not able to receive new books because it was supposed to be equal opportunities but I had matured a little when I realized that we were at the bottom of the totem pole but the fortunate thing about it was that we did receive the education. Our teachers were so-making sure that we were doing what we needed to do and not only that I was going to make sure that I did everything I was supposed to do anyway because my parents expected that and the teachers had personal contact with the parents so they knew exactly what our responsibilities were, they knew what our lessons were we had to do homework and that sort of thing. And there were so many of us that really achieved our goals down to the poorness of people. For some reason I didn't realize I was poor until I became an adult and I realized that maybe I didn't have the money that some of the other children had but I certainly had the sport.
LR: OK. Now you mentioned the teachers describe the relationship that teachers at that time had with your parents, or friends of your friends' parents?
ML: Well it was more or less like a family oriented situation because once we started school our parents made sure that they met the teachers and a lot of my teachers were single and I just happened to have parents who loved to cook and basically we all lived in the same community. And by them being single my parents invited them to dinner and I used to love to visit them because I could get ahead in my class work and our parents were involved in the extracurricular activities. I think the most embarrassing thing to me was that the school didn't have buses to transport the basketball and the football team away to play and my father owned a landscaping service so he had this big truck and that's how the team got from one school to the other. On the back of my daddy's truck. I didn't like that too much I was a little embarrassed by that but the football team and the basketball boys were overjoyed and they loved my father. My father always wanted a boy that's probably why I learned to drive and do a lot of things maybe that the boys did earlier because of that. But if there happened to have been any kind of problems we didn't consider it problems like when I became-got into 10th grade and had a little boyfriend and was late getting to class because I was standing in the hall talking and ( Parton ) Miller said "Well you know I'm going to talk to your mom and your dad" and of course before I got home they knew that I wasn't in class when the bell rang so that was the kind of bond that they had. They had the cooperation of the parents and that's one thing that existed then that definitely does not exist now and that's not totally 100% now but I volunteer so much that I see a lot of things in where the cooperation could have been 100% more than it really was.
LR: Ok now you previously mentioned that the sports team at your school didn't have a bus to transport them to games and that your father volunteered his van for that.
ML: Uh-huh.
LR: Can you recall the schools-the all white schools that they had transportation for their sports teams to their games?
ML: Yes they all had-they had buses that they went on but we didn't play them but we would see the buses.
LR: And as students did you recognize that at the time or--?
ML: Yeah we recognized that they did we would ask our teachers especially I would because I didn't want them riding on the back of my daddy's truck so I would always ask and Mr. Martin and Mr. Coster who were the coaches they said "Don't worry about it it's going to change we're going to do some things and we're going to have some fundraisers and we're going to get some buses." But until I graduated in '52 that did not happen but it did happen after I left.
LR: OK tell me about what a typical school day was like for you say when you were here at West Charlotte?
ML: Well I was always a little bit late getting into class--in my homeroom class and I lived right down the street but you know kind of particular trying to get my hair into place and this sort of thing. But that was about the only fault I knew I had as far as school was concerned. But our day basically started on time and we changed classes that was new when we got into 9th grade we had not done that in elementary school and my main concern was making sure that I had my homework from one class to the other and that was about the majority of the students' attitude simply because they knew that they would be punished if they didn't have it done because the parents would know about it. And one thing that we did then that they don't have now they have lunch but we had recess and the bell would ring and we would go to recess. Some kids brought their lunches others were in the cafeteria buying lunch. I pretty much brought mine every day and every once in a while I would get in line and buy it but once we finished lunch then we would go outside and socialize and now when I talk to my children about recess they don't know anything about that. And then there were those after-school activities and of course I wanted to be involved in everything that there was the drama club, the dance team, just any extra-curricular activity-the chorus. And I thought I was special because I made the chorus in the 9th grade but that was pretty much a typical day and once we got home it was a matter of doing your homework before you did anything else.
LR: What were some of your favorite subjects that you enjoyed in school?
ML: English was my favorite and was probably because I loved the teacher but English was my favorite subject.
LR: OK so you see-do you see a correlation between liking your teacher and doing well, excelling in that certain subject? Do you see--?
ML: Oh exactly she was going to make sure that I did-she's still living today and at that time she was Barbara Welbert and now she is Barbara Welbert Davis. There were several teachers along with her that married teachers that they met once they became an educator here at West Charlotte but anything that I didn't understand-any questions that I had that was just no problem it wasn't a matter of being embarrassed to ask the question. You would just automatically know you were going to ask that question because you wanted to make sure that whatever the term paper or whatever your assignment was, was actually going to be good. We wanted to stay-I wanted to stay on the honor roll. And which I did.
LR: Did you find that your peers had that same passion to excel?
ML: Especially the girls that I paled around with but I think on a whole the average child really wanted to succeed.
LR: OK now tell me about your friends, your peers-say your close peers that you had going through school.
ML: Well one girlfriend of mine Barbara Baps we were friends from the time we were toddlers because we lived right down the street from each other. And we were in kindergarten together until 5th grade but when I transferred I left her at Fairview and I came to Biddleville. I didn't want to do that I didn't want to transfer because I didn't know anybody. I just didn't feel comfortable and I was a very unhappy 5th grader the first day in Biddleville School and this one girl her name was Teloria Stroud and she said--Miss Wheeler who coincidentally happened to have gone to school with my mother and my mother hadn't seen her in years and she was going to be my 5th grade teacher and she introduced me to the class then she asked Teloria to come up and personally meet me and take me to get some Kleenexes because I was crying. And Teloria says, "I'll be your friend" she says "So stop crying." And she did. Teloria Stroud, Delores Cox, Willie May Ferguson and Virginia Ellis. There were 5 of us and we were just like sisters we wanted to dress alike and do everything and they always felt that I had more than they did. And I didn't think that was true but that's the way they felt and our parents all fixed us lunch and my dad had made a promise to himself that my sister and I would live better than he did and worked in a meat packing company. He said that we would never bologna. He said because of all of the stuff that they made bologna out of that it there was anyway possible we would eat boiled ham and turkey sandwiches and so that's what my mother and father fixed for my lunch where as Teloria and Delores and Virginia they all had bologna sandwiches and of course they wanted my sandwiches and I wanted theirs. So even though my parents fixed that nice sandwich for me I always ate the bologna and my friends ate mine. Delores went to Bennett, Teloria went to Johnson C. Smith, Willie May went to Virginia Union and when we were in 11th grade Virginia's parents divorced and she went with her mom to New York so that kind of split us up. And I went to North Carolina Central so we didn't go to the same school. The young man that I dated went to Johnson C. Smith so my father wouldn't let me go to Smith. He didn't want me going to the same school that he went to. But that didn't stop anything because we got married our sophomore year of college anyway.
LR: [Laughter] Ok.
ML: We are still very close friends Delores is deceased now, Virginia now lives in Raleigh-Durham and Teloria lives in Cleveland and Willie May lives in Maryland. But we see each other often.
LR: OK. Of your classmates and even the ones that you mentioned can you recall of any that became influential? Say in politics or the entertainment industry or anything? Any classmates that went on to be famous?
ML: Oh yeah many of them. I'll take James Hart. I think James Hart-they called him Biscuit in high school he was one-he was the oldest of 18 children and I think he was about the poorest thing at West Charlotte. I never ever saw him without a patch on his pants. He never had shoes on that actually fit he was just poor it was just--but he was smart.
LR: Let me just interrupt you a little bit. You said he was the oldest of 18 children?
ML: The oldest of 18 children.
LR: Wow. Ok.
ML: 18.
LR: Ok.
ML: And he was a great basketball player and when he was voted the most outstanding athlete and of course this meant that he was to go to the banquet and receive the award. He did not have the clothes so Coach Martin bought him a suit and he just bought him everything between he and Mr. Colson who was also a coach. And he was so sharp and he got a scholarship to Virginia Union he is now a retired district attorney of Omaha, Nebraska.
LR: Wonderful, wonderful.
ML: That's just one. George Butler worked for CBS as one of the presidents-or the vice presidents of CBS and there was one young man who was in the Olympics for a number of years. So we have a national organization the West Charlotte High School National Organization and we have people in 52 states and they come back every 3 years. And the teachers just thrive on the success of the doctors and the lawyers and the engineers and just so successful and they take real pride in that and of course we take pride in having been able to succeed and make them proud. So its amazing I'm 70 years old and our love for the school is phenomenal. They call me Miss West Charlotte.
LR: [Laughter]
ML: Because I'm here so much I'm in the school about everyday whether I'm volunteering for 3 hours or 5 hours just doing something.
LR: Ok well tell me a little more about your volunteering activities here at West Charlotte.
ML: Well because of my commitment to the school my national president formed a committee called the Ambassadors to West Charlotte and he made me chairperson of that committee so my responsibility is to get the volunteers and I get volunteers to come work the front office, to help in the media center, to help Miss Wolf with anything she needs, serving as monitors, proctors, the senior exit, monitoring the cafeteria, serving as a greeter, tutoring, I can't think of a thing. Chaperones you name it whatever their wish list consists of and they need volunteers. My responsibility is to get-provide the people to do that.
LR: How do you see the current students responding to you as an alumni student when they see you back in school volunteering?
ML: It's amazing even-every principal that they've had here has always said the same thing "Miss Latimer you need to stay here all day long."
LR: [Laughter]
ML: They respect me and I'm not sure whether-I think a lot has to do with the age. Most of the teachers say it's the report that I have with them. I don't have to ask them to take their hats off and I don't have to ask the boys to pull their pants up. The boys will just automatically say "Pull your pants up." One of the other guys will be like "Why?" "There's Miss Latimer." And they just automatically pull their pants up. I thought this was quite interesting I was in the main office and 2 boys walked past the door-past the area and one of them said "Miss Latimer I forgot my lunch money could you loan me $2 and I will give you back to me tomorrow." The other little fellow said "You know Miss Latimer don't have any money she doesn't get paid until the 10th of the month." I was here so much they actually thought I was on the payroll. But I did have the $2 that I shared-that I gave to him and the next day he came up the first thing and I hadn't gotten here but he left an envelope with $2 in it for me. But I travel with the basketball team, travel with the football team and raise money so that when they go on the trips they'll have a nice bus and they'll have the snacks and be able to do extracurricular activities. And the organized classes that are within the National they will respond I just go to them and ask them to dig deep into their heart and they treasure it and they do that. And it's wonderful I wish I could get more of them to travel with the teams. Especially during the holidays I really travel with the girls' basketball team because they don't get the support that the boys' team gets. The girls-the JV girls start playing at 4 and then the JV boys and then the varsity girls play at 6 and there's just a handful of people and the varsity boys play at 8 and the place is running over.
LR: [Laughter]
ML: So I support them all but I normally travel with the girls.
LR: OK. Now listening to you talk as far as talking about the students-the current students here at West Charlotte just students in general. Teenagers are getting a bad rep as far as their lack of respect you just hear different things about teenagers nowadays in the media or whatever and I'm just-hearing you talk sounds totally different. What do you do as far as your communication with these students that demands the respect that maybe the parents-their own parents aren't even getting?
ML: Well now don't misunderstand what I've said because there are some kids here I call them off the hook because they are loud, boisterous, disrespectful, use terrible language and it's unbelievable. And I do deal with them and I've come to one conclusion when the parents are called in its normally the mother and I'm just from the old school the apple don't fall far from the tree and that's usually the case. The loudness and boisterous and using profanity and when the mother comes she's using the same thing so its hard and these children are from more or less what they call high risk. A lot of them are from high drug related situations within their communities and single moms and so many of them don't know who their father is and you just have no idea of what kind of life these children live.
LR: Uh-huh.
ML: Some of them are coming from the shelter and they don't know how they're supposed to act but those that I have conversations with and I've had some where they were talking loud and boisterous including the parents and I'll just look at them and say "Well you need to calm down because it doesn't call for all of this." My whole tone of voice changes, my attitude changes and 9 times out of 10 the ones that I talk to do calm down. They realize that it doesn't have to be this way but a lot of these children that's all they know and old habits are hard to break. And I think that that's why I'm here so much and they ask in Sunday school what is passion? The question was what is your passion? And then everybody's looking well what is passion? And I feel that a passion for something is a desire to be involved to try to make it what you feel is what it needs to be so I guess West Charlotte is a passion because our reputation used to be A plus and now its totally different. And someone says "I don't understand it. So much has changed." And I said "It's not so much that's changed its people that have changed." Because the ratio of whites here at West Charlotte today as far as I'm concern is about minus 1% because I've seen maybe 4 and there might be others but when I do see them I'm shocked. Well in '52 well from '48 to '52 or from 1938 up until I graduated it was all black. It was all as they say now African-American children. The difference in the children now and then is change in time. We didn't have access to all the things-I didn't even know what marijuana was we didn't know anything about drugs. I remember one girl got sent home because she was smoking and we thought she was-I mean she's really fast. She was actually smoking. I remember 4 girls getting pregnant well the girls walk around here pregnant everyday and they have a choice. They don't have to go to taps they can choose to stay here at West Charlotte. You have teachers that are pregnant. And this might be something I don't need to say but Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system don't pay me no money I volunteer up here so I pretty much feel like I can say anything I want to say. I think that if you have an unmarried teacher if she gets pregnant she needs to go home. Not saying that she doesn't need to work but she can find another job.
LR: Ok.
ML: Because that does not send a good message. You need to be sending a message of abstinence and you can't do that. So consequently what kind of respect do you think that the children would have. If they're in her class they're pregnant she's pregnant too. Well if she doesn't have a husband and they don't have one neither the children are going to look at her and say "So what you don't have one either."
LR: Right.
ML: So there are just so many things-that wouldn't have been heard of in the 50s no way. I'm not saying that didn't any of them get pregnant I don't know they might have I didn't know anything about it but I'm saying there were a lot of single teachers. Because there were teachers I can just count a few of them that taught me and they married another teacher in the school Barbara Davis and John Davis-Barbara Welbert and John Davis got married, Sadie Marany and Pop Miller and they didn't have children for years later but the bottom line is you cannot demand respect from children unless you are standing before them portraying what you feel they need to be about. So I think that today it is a very, very serious matter I think that there needs to be some changes made in the choice plan. I think that when you get a 98% of high risk low income children and you dump them in one barrel you cannot expect the grades to jump sky high. You have to have children in environments that they need help the parents are there to help them and-so you put all these children you send all them to Providence or South Meck and Myers Park and East Meck and then you send the rest of them that nobody wants to be bothered with to West Charlotte and to West Meck and Garinger. And then those are the schools that you target well until there are some changes made you need to split them up and send some of those kids that have problems to other schools and send some of those high achievers and then you'll see that the expectations will be different they will be meeting grade level. But until some changes come it's not going to happen. The other side of the coin to that is that kids right out of school don't have the experience. I think that those teachers need to be divided up in equally. You've got first-year teachers, you've got 20 over here, 20 over there. You don't take them all and put them in West Charlotte.
LR: Right.
ML: Because I don't care how smart they were, I don't care if they were cum laude or whatever they haven't had the experience of teaching and they certainly haven't had the experience of dealing with children with a whole lot of problems and coming to school carrying a whole lot of baggage and that needs to change.
LR: Let me ask you this if Dr. Pughsley who is our superintendent now asked you to name three things that you could almost say would definitely change our school system what would you say?
ML: And we've pretty much talked about that too.
LR: [Laughter]
ML: Just met with him Tuesday before last.
LR: Ok.
ML: Just met with him some of the things that I just said to you are some of the same things I've said to him.
LR: So sum it up in three things.
ML: I think that inexperienced teachers need to be distributed-I shouldn't say distributed they should be assigned to schools realizing that you have a large number of experienced teachers there. I think that in areas such as the three schools that I've named Garinger, West Meck and West Charlotte need strong and experienced teachers that have the knowledge of how to actually deal with them. Surely put some inexperienced teachers here because it is a learning process but I feel that students especially these students they realize the inexperience and they know how to intimidate. A seasoned teacher wouldn't be intimidated by it. That would shut that down. That's why I feel that they respect me because I smile at them and I-they know that I come to their games, they know that I'm going to be supportive but they also know that they're not going to walk in there with all that noise and acting like they're on the playground. They know who they can intimidate and who they can't.
LR: OK.
ML: And I did share that with Dr. Pughsley and Dr.-and I don't really mind saying it because I don't think he would mind he certainly knows that that would make a difference. The key to success with all children is dedication and commitment from educators.
LR: OK. So you would pretty much say that teachers have a huge responsibility now.
ML: Certainly.
LR: And can you also say that they are not all doing their part?
ML: Oh I don't think they are.
LR: Ok.
ML: No I don't think that they're all doing their part and I think there are many reasons why they won't. Well I don't think they liked it too well either in reference to the senior exit all students to my knowledge are supposed to have a contact person that can mentor them in preparing themselves for their senior exit. Don't misunderstand me I think children should take responsibilities.
LR: Now the senior exit can you just tell me a little about that?
ML: The senior exit is the final project that they have to do and they know in 9th grade that they've got to do this project and its going to count for a percentage of their grade. They're going to have to do a project, they're going to have to do a paper to explain why they chose this particular project, and then as I've said getting volunteers and my responsibility is to get someone to sit, at least 3 to 4 people to sit and listen to the child to present. We have to look over their project, then we have look at their product and then we have to listen to them. Give us their oral presentation and they know how long-they know when they have to do this. The majority of the children will wait down to the deadline and start working on it. Some of them this year I was so proud of them because they did exceptionally well. But each child should have a person a teacher and I think a lot of times it's the English department that they can go to if there are any problems. Well children have a tendency to not do that they have a tendency to just do a little bit and hope its going to pass and that's it. But I think that it should be that whatever teacher is assigned to that child that teacher needs to see to it that that child is doing what he or she is supposed to do. I think it would be an embarrassment to me if they stood up and it looked like they decided they were going to do this on the way to school on the bus. And take their little paper out of their pocket and stood there and read. I would be embarrassed. I think they would do better if they had the supervision now some of them are going to do excellent whether they have-they don't need anybody. But then there's that group that does.
LR: OK. I'm going to change focuses a little bit and leave the year 2005 and take you back a little bit to about 1954. That was the time that the Brown versus the Board of Education Supreme Court decision occurred. And I'm just wondering what you recall during that time. If you could just state where you were if you were still in college around that time in 1954 and if you could tell me a little bit of what you remember going on at that time?
ML: In '54 I was a sophomore in college and I remember the confusion and I remember it was during that time that a lot of youngsters realized that there's racism around here and that we're not being treated fairly. And that whites are superior and we are the inferior group of people. And I don't think prior to that a lot of them had really thought about it even though they realized that there were some things that they were not being able to take advantage of they pretty much settled on going to the Grand Theatre and the Lincoln Theatre which was in another section of town. They pretty much settled with not going to a lot of restaurants because the parents didn't have a lot of money to take them to the restaurants anyway. But I think at this particular time things were beginning to get a little better, people were being able to get better jobs where they could afford to maybe to go into areas that they had not been able to touch before. So I think it was a wakeup call.
LR: Ok. Do you recall your parents' opinion on the decision?
ML: My mom was a very quiet person my daddy was like me he was outspoken. He was an outspoken person and so of course he was on that felt that even though things happened to his parents and things that changed when he came along that he was able to get along a little better I think my father was a little bitter in reference to racism period. And I think that's why it made him work harder to make sure that we were not going to be caught up in all that. You know that we were equal and that he was going to work hard for whatever it was that he had to do to see to it that he could make a difference-make a change.
LR: Ok now you mentioned that you were a sophomore in college so you weren't in the public school system at that time?
ML: No in '54 no. I graduated '52.
LR: OK now do you recall any family members coming through the Charlotte school system around 1954?
ML: My mother-I mean my sister graduated in '54.
LR: OK was there anything different from your experience before the decision that she might have--?
ML: I don't think so.
LR: Ok.
ML: I can't recall.
LR: Because its my understand that actually the decision occurred in '54 but changes didn't really happened until--.
ML: Until a couple of years later.
LR: Ok, ok, ok. In your experience did the desegregation of schools involve students or teachers first? Just from what you've heard-I know you weren't in the system at that time but what you've heard about it where teachers coming in or were more African-American students going into the white schools?
ML: The onset was the students young girl Dorothy Counts she's Dorothy Stagous now well her parents were-her father was at Johnson C. Smith University he sent her to Harding that first day it was devastating. I think that that's probably when a lot of kids got into trouble with fighting even though they were at all black schools when they'd go downtown and get on the bus they would think in terms of the eggs being thrown on Dorothy and stones being thrown and they jumped on her and I know within weeks of that there was a lot of fights because kids were retaliating against what had happened with just that one girl. So I think it was the students first and as I said I wasn't here in Charlotte when the teachers began to be moved from basically all white situations into basically all black schools or black schools that had been previously all black. Pretty much was what I read in papers the transition wasn't as smooth as they would have hoped it would have been and it's like anything else it just took a few years.
LR: Now your personal opinion in terms of what you heard during that time of integration and even right now as a volunteer within the school system do you see more positives or negatives integrating African-American children into white schools?
ML: I see more positive. There are blacks that are excelling in the predominantly white schools technically without any problems at all. The majority of those students though I think are high achievers but there's always that 10% but I think overall the majority of the children are doing well. One of the things that I didn't-or I still don't feel it's the best situation because a lot of the predominantly white schools they might not want all the black students there but they want the best black athletes because they know that black athletes help them win games. So whatever it is that they'll do you've got people changing their addresses to go to Independence because they know that they're going to win the games or Central. Then of course West Charlotte has always had the reputation everybody wants to beat West Charlotte because West Charlotte was known for beating up everybody.
LR: [Laughter]
ML: And the same here the kids changing their addresses to come to West Charlotte just like some of the other schools.
LR: OK we've talked about a lot of different things as far as your personal experience coming through the system and your experience actually being a volunteer now being an alumni. Is there anything that you would like to add to this interview or anything that you'd like to talk about that I may not-have not brought up?
ML: Well I guess none other than I still think that West Charlotte is the best high school in Charlotte it's the only high school that has that strong bond with the community. And the community right now is disturbed because they can't figure out what's going on. The community is seasoned they're full of seasoned people. There used to be a parade every homecoming and they'll call people like me to find out "Well why aren't they having the parade?" And can't pretty much give them-because I was wondering myself. I think Dr. Lee had said it one time that the insurance for whatever. But I know that still now I can go into the community and say "Well we're going to have this we'd like for you to participate." And they don't mind doing that I do know that Myers Park community is strong but I don't think they're as-because they've never had a parade or that sort of thing but West Charlotte has just had that community bond and of course the National Alumni Association was the first of its kind. And when Dr. Ledford was here-and at that time I was the National President in '89 she attended-[Tape switches sides, may have been lost] --clue what she was talking about so she was very proud of that and she came back to the Alumni Association and she said "You know my chest was stuck out because they didn't have a clue what I was talking about." But the Alumni Association consists of people who went to this school that still love the school and they ask for a wish list every year and they do things from buying clothes, giving scholarships, paying the SAT fee, just whatever the wish list is. And we always have 4 students in college at all times. And we see those kids through college and they have a list of the scholarship committee telephone number and they know that anytime during the year if there's anything that they need, any problems that they have, it doesn't matter about the time they know that they can get on the phone and they can call.
LR: Ok.
ML: And they know that we are going to be there. So I guess I'll just end by saying that when they honored me 2 years ago with the Alumni Association at our reunion they had my daughter to speak. My daughter is in Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system and she said "Well I know that my mom could not have entered college without having finished high school." She says "But I haven't seen my mother's degree from West Charlotte and I'm just a little leery about it because she's still going to school everyday."
LR: [Laughter]
ML: She says "I think my mom is the oldest person who attends the athletic booster committee meeting for West Charlotte."
LR: That's wonderful.
ML: It's just that commitment.
LR: That's wonderful. In closing what advice would you give students today that are struggling with low socio-economic status and say low education of their parents? Just different issues that are keeping them from maybe succeeding. What advice would you give them?
ML: Well first of all I would just love for them to sit down and think about how important education is. It is so hard to get a job even with an education think in terms of those people who have gone to school for 4 years and they still haven't been able to find a job in their field but they're able to find employment-seek employment. But the students that are just lollygagging around and not doing anything to help themselves need to stop and look at what it takes to succeed. Stop doing all these foolish things and open the books, start studying, seek help because they sometimes turn down mentors. They need to accept those mentors, they need to ask for those mentors and try to do the best that they can. They might be in a low income, drug infested projects today but they don't have to stay there. There are too many people who have been there that have stood up for themselves, begged somebody to give them a scholarship, finished college and got them an education and became millionaires and came back and have been able to give the university a million dollars. Just because you are born into a situation doesn't mean that you have to stay there but you got to have ambitions you've got to have desire and you've got to have a passion to do what it takes to succeed.
LR: Well those are wonderful words of encouragement and advice and I really-I thoroughly enjoyed this interview with you and we're going to bring this interview to a close and I really thank you for all of your help with this interview.
ML: It was my pleasure.
LR: Ok thank you.
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